Eating Customs in Portugal

Things we are used to back at home such as complimentary bread, olives and more may not be so complimentary..

At a restaurant in most countries anything brought to your table that you didn't order is considered complimentary. A small basket of bread or some antipasto is simply a gesture of generosity, goodwill from the restaurateur. But not in Portugal.

Inconvenient Convenience

The traditional custom which operates is that anything on your table, known as a couvert, is simply placed there for your convenience.

If you don't want it the onus is on you to ask for it to be removed. So don't be shy about this, there will be no issue with you sending back things you have not specifically ordered.

Usually "courverts" consist of a small dish of olives, bread, salad or even some seafood.

Luckily, if you do find that you have eaten these items it usually only costs about one or two Euro - and they are things you usually wouldn't have minded ordering anyway.

Couvert Operation

Do be aware however that sometimes this practice can be used to trick travellers in particularly touristy areas in Lisbon - they may try to nakedly exploit the inattention of foreigners.

Here you may find that a simple cheese plate, long forgotten by the end of the meal, will set you back more than $7.50.

If caught in a situation like this there it little you can do but simply grimace and accept this is all part of the experience of traveling.

No Doggies

And finally it's worth a side note that Portuguese restaurants will look at you blank faced should you have the temerity to ask for a "doggie bag".

This is not a traditional custom respected in Portugal; in fact at a formal dinner party it is polite to leave a small portion of your food.

So if you are on a tight budget remember to eat up there may be no taking leftovers back to the hostel!


  • Silas said

    Met a Portugese recently. Trying to learn their culture. Amazing informative article. Thanks!

  • Rita said

    This is not 100% true, only the part of the not so complementary food. In Portugal we love food and seeing everyone full and happy is much more apreciated than leaving a bit of food in your plate (never do this in a portuguese home)! Finally many restaurants have doggie bags, just don't go to the posh ones. The best places to eat are the hidden, small and poor looking.

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